Tag Archives: publication

Thailand’s “Death Railway”: Adventures on the Eastern & Oriental Express, Part I

4 Jun

The Kwai River Bridge. IRT photo by Bruce Anderson.

Since its inception, The Eastern & Oriental Express has been on my bucket list of trains to ride. But it was IRT President Eleanor Hardy’s Track 25 blog that finally made me book the trip. And as long as I was going halfway around the world, I decided to add the standard E&O four-day Singapore-Bangkok route to the beginning of my trip.

Unlike their semi-annual one-week tours (ours was Epic Thailand), this route runs regularly during high season and continues on a less frequent schedule throughout the year. In fact, the journey is more like a scheduled train than a tour, as stops are made to entrain passengers at the Malaysian cities of Kuala Lampur and Butterworth.

The train is much more than “general transportation,” however, and is every bit as impressive as outlined in Ms. Hardy’s blog. The staff is top-notch – attentive but not overbearing. What I didn’t expect was to be greeted by name by bartender Andrek asking if I was ready for my iced tea! How did he know? Of course, preferences were indicated on the booking form, but those are often a formality soon forgotten.

The War Cemetary at Kanachanaburi. IRT photo by Bruce Anderson.

Conductor on local train. IRT photo by Bruce Anderson.

Off-train tours are offered in the colonial Malaysian city of Georgetown and to Kanchanaburi, site of the Kwai River bridge. I, however, had planned to venture out on my own, leaving the E&O at the Kwai River Station and continuing by local train to the end of the line, 45 miles north at Nam Tok.

This track is what’s left of the Thai-Burma “Death Railway,” constructed by allied prisoners of World War II and made famous by the movie “Bridge Over the River Kwai.” The Allied War Cemetery at Kanchanaburi, with over 6,000 graves, lies in silent testament to the horror of what transpired there.

But all was not going according to plan. Would I make it to Bangkok in time, I wondered, to join the 19 other IRT travelers leaving on the Epic Thailand tour?

For part II of Bruce Anderson’s adventures in Thailand, please click here.

Thomas Cook: RIP Overseas Timetable

12 Nov

I feel like the voice of gloom and doom, but really, it is sad saying good-bye to the Thomas Cook Overseas Timetable. If you want to get the last edition of this venerable publication, order. And do it now. We very recently got the bad news that the current issue is its last. IRT caught up with Editor Peter Bass of Peterborough, UK, who will be 62 in January, and who has worked for the Thomas Cook timetables for almost 36 years. It would be 36 years to the day on Dec. 2. He became editor of the Overseas Timetable in 1980. That winter, the publishers decided to split the overseas info from the European edition.

Stopping the presses on the OTT “was a shock on this end…We have known it was probably going to happen at some stage or other, but to be so quick. This was quite a shock,” said Bass in a telephone interview today. “Everyone who has heard the news has been upset by it.” Basically, the information from the OTT won’t be available in any one place, he said. You can get it from each railway separately — if you are lucky. But the OTT had 100 contributors from all over the world. Bass and his part-time assistant had to condense the info significantly and well, edit it. “If we published timetables from every country, the book would be the size of a bus… The art is to get enough information to make it useful, but not so much that people are overwhelmed.”
Mr. Bass was philosophical about his upcoming retirement. “The OTT was so much more than just an information pack. It was an aspirational thing. A lot of people buy the timetable and never go anywhere. They just loved to read and work out how they could go from A to B.”

The Society of International Railway Travelers® and our far-flung members wish it a fond farewell. As Owen Hardy, Publisher of The International Railway Traveler, wrote before he knew this was the last issue: “Adventure and romance drip from its pages…In the past 30 years, travel has become safer, speedier-and more blandly homogenous. But as long as travelers crave adventure, as well as solid travel information, there will be room for the OTT. Thanks for the fantastic ride, OTT editors.”

Thanks indeed. And readers, what say you about the Overseas Timetable?

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